Many people in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom are reporting receiving unordered packages of seeds sent from China.  A wide variety of conspiracy theories have sprung up to explain what is going on, but the most obvious answer is that what is happening is a scam called “brushing.”   Brushing is the name for using false orders for products to boost the prominence of an online vendor.  Vendors will pay brushers to make large orders of their product and ship them to strangers to make the sales appear to be legitimate.  The brushers will follow up these purchases by posting glowing reviews of the vendor’s product.  This combination of increased sales volume and positive reviews will, in turn, result in the increased prominence of the vendor in online marketplaces and result in increased sales.  Brushing is illegal in the United States and China, however, it is quite commonly used by Chinese companies.   The FBI is presently investigating the seed deliveries as are officials in Canada and the UK.

While some state agricultural departments have indicated that the seeds could potentially be dangerous, the seeds that have been analyzed have been found to be a wide variety of innocuous seeds for plants and vegetables such as cucumbers, cantaloupes, gourds and wildflowers.

TIPS

State and federal officials in the United States have advised people not to plant the seeds out of a concern that some of the seeds might be for invasive plants that could threaten plants in this country or introduce diseases.  If you receive such unordered seeds, you are urged to give them to your local state agricultural department.  The good news is that while “brushing” is a scam, it does not directly threaten you.  The bad news is that this incident emphasizes the fact that you cannot truly trust online reviews and sales figures when determining whether you wish to purchase a particular product.

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